Garden notes from residents in water-scarce times

Taking the joute route

If you set eyes on this three-storey house in Thirumurugan Salai in Chitlapakkam, a question is bound to pop into your head. How does this house manage the current water crisis? With plants sitting pretty in many pots on each floor and creepers running along staircases and balconies, its water needs must be humungous.

K.K. Dinakar, who has raised this unconventional garden, says, “The reject water from the reverse osmosis machine and the condensed water from air-conditioners in the building are collected and used to water the plants and creepers. However, it was insufficient, as there are about 180 pots at the building. Besides, the plants started drying up due to the stress,” he says.

He got around the problem by improvising the old farming practice of placing jute sacks around plants to protect them from strong winds and animal attacks, and coming up with his brand of drip irrigation. Dinakar has had wet jute screens hanging around his plants.

Jute absorbs and retains water for a long time and the water slowly drips into the pots, keeping them moist through the day.

Garden notes from residents in water-scarce times

“Since the water crisis set in, the clothes at our home are being hand-washed. The water from the second and third rinse is saved; the jute screens are soaked in this water for about two to three minutes and are hung over and around the plants. The jute rolls are biodegradable, inexpensive and easily available in the market. I have used the jute screens for my terrace garden; the creepers and plants along the stairway are watered with the RO and air-conditioner reject. I am planning to install the drip pipelines to water the plants on each floor,” he adds.

Nurturing them by drips and drops

The street garden at Thiruveedhi Amman Koil Street imparts not just colour but also character to the locality. It symbolises what these residents believe in — green living. So, it’s no surprise they have installed a customised drip irrigation unit that combines an effective watering technique with frugal use of water.

Garden notes from residents in water-scarce times

K.L. Bala of Thiruveedhi Amman Koil Street Residents Association says the job got done in a day; with a plumber’s help, drip pipelines from three buildings were routed through small holes in compound walls to the plants on the pavements.

He points out that they experimented with different types of emitters/dippers before settling on button drippers, and the outlay towards purchase and installation was just ₹5,000. Bala volunteers a shopping tip: “At Parrys, there are button drippers, sprinklers, spray jet emitters and more.”

When the system was working like a charm, residents encountered a challenge from unexpected quarters. Rats tried to gum up the works, but unsuccessfully.

“The drip lines were above the ground and the rats chewed on them, causing leaks. So, we clamped the drip lines to the walls and ensured water was flowing into the plants on the pavements,” he says.

“Earlier, about 2,000 litres of water would go into watering the plants twice a week, but now, it is just 300 to 400 litres now,” says M.K. Ramkumar, another resident who has introduced the model partly at his terrace garden. Washing the nozzles fitted on the drip pipelines regularly to prevent sediment accumulation is the only required maintenance, he adds.

Garden notes from residents in water-scarce times

Ramkumar says he is working on making an automated drip irrigation system with a built-in timer.

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The bucket challenge

Pour the water used in washing rice, dal and vegetables into a bucket, which can be kept handy in your kitchen. Besides, water used in boiling rice and vegetables can also be stored in the bucket — of course, only after allowing it to cool. Remember to not pour water with salt into the bucket. This water with nutritious content can be used to nourish the plants directly. Similarly, while cleaning the dishes, don’t rinse them with tap water, which will result in water wastage. Instead, place four buckets of water and dip each vessel in all the four buckets. The water from the third and fourth bucket can be be used for irrigation, as they should be free of chemicals from dish-washing soaps and liquids. However, if you are using eco-friendly and sustainable washing powders or soaps, then all four buckets of water can be used in your garden or pots directly. If no chemicals are used in mopping water, it can be used for irrigation.

The sustainability challenge

If you want to recycle and reuse the water from baths and washing clothes, use sustainable soaps and detergents. Soapberry or soapnut, which is called ‘punalai’, ‘poovanthi’ or ‘panankottai’ in Tamil, can be used to wash clothes. Soapnut-based soaps, shampoos and detergents are available at stores selling sustainable products in the city. They can also be easily prepared at home. Sun-dry the soapnuts and get it ground. Do not put the powder directly into washing machines as it is hard to dissolve, but in a string pouch which can be dropped into the machine. You can also use whole soapnuts to wash clothes the same way. Whole soapnuts are sold in puja stores. The water used for bathing and washing can be used to water the plants directly.

The plant challenge

Some plants need less water than others; so choose your plants and trees accordingly. A few examples of non-water-intensive plants are gongura, nochi, lemon grass, vettiver, drumstick tree, native varieties of brinjal, yams, pirandia (veld grape/devil’s backbone), purslane (‘paruppu keerai’), marathuvarai (pigeon pea), henna, karpooravalli, amaranth; edible weeds such as sundakkai (turkey berry), malabar spinach, mudakathan keerai (balloon plant/love in a puff), banana, tulsi etc. These are some of the drought-resistant plants and can survive even when water supply is minimum.

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